Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion



Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion *****

2007 will go down as possibly the finest year in music that this young century has seen so far. It was an especially positive year for indie artists. Bands like the Arcade Fire played Saturday Night Live, others had their albums place in the top 5 on the Billboard charts, and Radiohead released In Rainbows, independent of any label to great success.
One group of musicians also had their own personal landmark year, and that was Baltimore-bred Animal Collective. They started their year when AC member Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) released Person Pitch, a joyous tone poem of sorts about living the good life, and sounded like the Beach Boys if they hadn’t scaled back after Pet Sounds. Following Pitch a few months later was Strawberry Jam, the band’s seventh album, which was released to unanimous praise in indie publications, while to somewhat indifferent ones in mainstream publications. However, Jam was a colorful celebration of music. The opening track “Peacebone” immediately threw the listener into the music with it‘s bizarre layered feel. Tracks like “For Reverend Green” and “Fireworks” were startlingly beautiful, and the album as a whole solidified the band’s status in the indie world.
Now the follow-up, Merriweather Post Pavilion is being released, and the hype is at a level that hasn’t been seen for an indie artist. Rumors of leaks happening, and a bizarre email allegedly sent out by member Geologist (Brian Weitz) stating that the album should be leaked as soon as possible, which Deerhunter front man Bradford Cox claiming that it was a fake sent out by a hacker. which turned out it was the work of a hacker. I do not remember Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible being released to this kind of hype, nor any other artist back in 2007. Now this question begs to be answered: With the hype at fever pitch, is Merriweather Post Pavilion any good, if not great?
The answer to this question is a big “Yes”. Merriweather Post Pavilion is Animal Collective’s finest work yet, being both incredibly diverse yet accessible at the same time. They manage to make genre-defining tunes, yet they will not alienate current fans and scare away new ones. The album sees the group abandon guitars completely, going for danceable rhythms and melodies instead. With this sound, they create a jubilant record that is more clear and concise than the joyful abstractedness of Strawberry Jam. At 55 minutes, it is their longest album, but it feels like their shortest. Like that old saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Some of the tracks could work very well in a club setting especially “My Girls” and “Brothersport”, two of the best songs on the record. “My Girls” is probably the band’s most accessible song, with it’s upbeat melody, tinkering keyboards, and the somewhat catchy chorus, it is the closest thing the band has made that could somehow crack the Billboard 100, and that alone would be a surprising thing to do. “Brothersport”, the album closer, with it’s climax building up with a beat that would come straight out a nightclub on the Mediterranean (Panda Bear currently resides in Lisbon; not exactly the Mediterranean, but it’s a short drive away.)
Other songs work well as unique pop songs. “Summertime Clothes” is the sound of the band having much fun, with a rising keyboard riff matched with their skilled melodic vocals. “Lion in a Coma” has the didgeridoo as it’s main instrument, but once again, the band has made another upbeat electronic pop melody.
Another interesting change in the band’s method is the more adult subject matter to the songs. Strawberry Jam and other albums seem to rely on childhood memories. “Peacebone” from Strawberry Jam, has lyrics that would work well in a fairy tale. The songs on MPP are more soulful and adult, like “Blueish” which reminded me of “Nude” from Radiohead’s In Rainbows. It’s a soulful and peaceful tune, with Avey Tare (Dave Portner) crooning over the soft melody. Animal Collective are dealing with more adult issues here, but not in a disappointed way, but with much happiness.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is easily Animal Collective best album. Now this doesn’t mean that AC’s other works weren’t great, but MPP is their finest hour. With MPP, they are at their most experimental, and their most accessible. They continue to produce their always wonderful melodies, and it only begs the question of where will Animal Collective go next? How will they top this album? The band has been continually improving since the start of the decade, so it should be no surprise that the next album will be as good, if not better, than Merriweather Post Pavilion? However, it is all about MPP, and I’m fine with listening to this one for years to come.

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